Another year, another step in the right direction for the ELITE Institute at Texas Wesleyan University.
The second-year program from Fort Worth SPARC is a proud partner of Read Fort Worth’s Summer Scholars Collaborative. Over the course of the summer, 12 programs in the Collaborative operated at more than 60 sites around the city for more than 3,000 kids. Every program contained a purposeful literacy component designed to help prevent “summer slide,” the loss of literacy levels over the summer.
The guiding principles for the ELITE Institute are spelled out in its name: Excellent Literacy Instruction to Empower. The ELITE Institute, one of the signature programs presented by SPARC, is designed for kindergarten to fifth grade teachers and students in Fort Worth ISD.
SPARC (Strengthen after-school Programs through Advocacy, Resources and Collaboration) is a strategic collaboration between the City of Fort Worth, 14 local independent school districts, after-school providers and community leaders. Together, they advocate for exceptional after-school programs across Greater Fort Worth and to serve as a resource for parents and providers.
In an effort to provide the best instruction to students to combat summer slide, ELITE placed a premium on teacher education by providing best practices for reading and writing in a vibrant learning environment. Teachers, primarily from FWISD, were exposed to hands-on application, collaboration with each other, and self-reflection regarding their philosophy of teaching and learning.
Students worked with individual teachers and engaged in the literacy strategies. Each two-hour day began with a welcome at 9 a.m. before students went to separate rooms based on classroom principles and grade levels. If the student is a rising first-grader, he/she would do to a first-grade room.
Unlike one of the sessions last summer, transportation was not provided this year. Students had a “mandate,” said SPARC Executive Director Tobi Jackson, to arrive between 8:45-9 a.m.
“And that is what happened,” she said. “Everybody has been here on time and we’ve had almost 100 percent attendance. We believe that parents being more involved has improved the children’s capacity to learn because they’re here every day. We have some parents who stay through the whole session and help.”
Basic exercises followed, such as word finding, scrabble games, educational software and work with tactile tools, including magnetic letters and the dry erase board. Literacy practices incorporated reading silently and independently, reading in pairs and with teachers. Students journaled every day, writing and drawing pictures about that they learned.
“Everything that we do makes literacy fun,” Jackson said.
Jackson, a lifelong resident of East Fort Worth, has long served the community and local youth, mainly in the areas of social and emotional growth. Currently the Fort Worth ISD Board of Education Vice President and District 2 Trustee, Jackson was FWISD Board President from 2017-19.
ELITE has garnered plenty of attention in its short existence. In addition to the success of last summer, when two sessions touched the lives of more than 80 students, this year’s edition was recently featured on FOX 4.
“We’re doing this work here in Fort Worth, Texas, but it’s on a national scale,” Jackson said. “People are looking at what we’re doing at the state and national level.”
The 2019 ELITE Institute featured 33 students and 16 teachers, running for two weeks in July at Texas Wesleyan. Most of the students were from zip code 76105, the Polytechnic neighborhood which is one of the more socioeconomically-challenged areas in East Fort Worth. The program did take in some students from outside a three-mile radius of TWU, including Khloe Brandon, who had fallen behind in school due to being treated for leukemia at Cook Children’s.
“This is perfect,” mother, Nicole Brandon, told Fox 4. “It helps her get caught up if she needs to be caught up. It helps her get where she needs to be. If she’s good, it’s just going to benefit her even more.”
The student-to-teacher ratio is intentionally small, providing plenty of opportunity for specialized instruction. Many of the students with the highest risk for learning slippage in the summer are “English-language learners,” according to Jackson. Those students also have the highest potential to raise their test scores, she said.
Exposure to a college campus also created a sense of welcome, as well as helped break down some of the “invisible barriers” that may exist for students facing challenging circumstances in life. Asked to sum up the ELITE Institute in one word, Jackson did … and didn’t
“Order,” she said. “There is order here and consistency. Our kids know they can depend on us every day.”